Back to Index

Back to The Good Fight

Question: Is there bible support for Local Church Membership?


Though I understand you are asking about the local church, it would
seem that a good beginning point would be to discuss the nature of the
church universal. The church (universal) is the spiritual body of
Christ. It is the called out body of Jesus Christ. It was promised by
the Lord in Matthew 16:18). He purchased the church with His own blood
(Acts 20:28; Eph. 5:25).  To minimize the church is to minimize the
blood of Christ. To say that the church is non-essential is to say
that Christ unnecessarily shed His blood.

The church includes all of God's people. It encompasses all, anywhere
in the world, as well as those who have died in the Lord. It is the
brotherhood (1 Pet. 2:17).

Christ is the head (Eph. 1:22,23; Col. 1:18). It has no other
organization. It is the saved. A spiritual house (1 Pet. 2:5). It is
the kingdom of God (Heb.  12:28); it is the family of God (Eph. 2:19;

There is but one body (Eph. 4:4-6). One is added to that one body as
he meets the conditions of pardon. The very process that makes one a
Christian at the same time makes him a member of the church.

Now, let me specifically address whether membership in the local church is a
scriptural concept.

1. The word "church" is used in the Bible to refer to "the called out
people" in a given place. It is true that Chrisitans function as
individuals. But the local church is the "functioning unit" that God
has authorized. In this, the local church, there are to be elders,
deacons (Phil. 1:1). Those elders addressed here were not over the
church universal, but the church at Philippi. Consider also the local
church at Antioch. The wording is, "Now in the church that was at
Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers..." (Acts
13:1). Again we can conclude from this passage that there are to be
teachers in the local church (for our purpose now we are not
addressing the purpose and duration of the miraculous; suffice it to
say that the prophets were also teachers, but inspired teachers).

2. The mission God assigned to these local churches consists of
evangelism (1 Thes. 1:8; 1 Tim. 3:15), edification (1 Cor. 14:26; 1
Thes. 5:11) and relief of needy Christians (1 Cor. 16:1,2). As earlier
stated, Christians certainly function as individuals, but God has
addressed Himself to "group effort", to "collective activity."  The
local church is "team effort." There is a pooling of work and
financial resourses.  Negatively, it should be observed that in the
New Testament God did not authorize local churches to promote the
Social Gospel. They were not divinely instructed to meddle in
politics, provide secular education, or entertainment and
recreation. Nor did God instruct churches to be a relief agency for
the whole world.

3. There is but one body (Eph. 4:4). But there were and are many local
churches. This is not to say that the universal church is made up of
all the local churches. The universal church consist of all the saved,
whether living or dead. It is made up of saved individuals. The local
church is also made up of individuals, but in a given locality.

Consider the context of Romans 16:16. Paul was on the 3rd
journey. Writing from Corinth. He had started out from Antioch of
Syria. He revisited the churches of Galatia. He had been in Ephesus
for 3 years. He then went through Macedonia.  Now writing from
Corinth, he states, "the churches of Christ salute you."  Probably all
of these churches and perhaps others were included the greetings Paul
sent. Yes, the local church is authorized. Yes, it has an important
place in God's plan.

4. There were many local churches, but they were to be of the same
faith and practice (1 Cor. 4:17). The fact that they fell short, and
had to be corrected, in no way negates that this was God's plan. There
is a divine pattern to which local churches are expected to hold
fast. When God gives a pattern, He does not authorize men to tamper
with it.

5. The local church is what assembles for worship (Heb. 10:25). This
is one way in which Christians consider and encourage one another. It
is the local church that comes together to observe the Lord's Supper
(1 Cor. 11:17-34; Acts 20:7).  In Acts 14:27, Paul and Barnabas
"gathered the church together." They did not gather the universal
church together, which would have been impossible, but they gathered
the church at Antioch, the local church.

1 Tim. 2:1-8 considers the church "in every place", with instructions
regarding prayer, etc.

6. The local church is what has a treasury. The church at Philippi
pooled their resources together to help support Paul
(Phil. 4:15ff.). Other churches out of their treasuries supported Paul
(2 Cor. 11:8). God expected that each Christian would have a part in
the financial responsibilities (1 Cor.  16:1,2). Note that this was
done on the first day of every week (see NASB).

7. The oversight of elders is that of the local church (1
Pet. 5:4). If one is not part of the local church, he thwarts God's
plan (for himself) by not being under their watch and care.

8. Consider God's plan in church discipline. It involves the local
church, as seen in 1 Cor. 5, as well as 2 Thes. 3.

Conclusion: In light of the above passages, where must we be to fit
into God's plan? Christians must be in the local church. As far as how
this is done, i.e., sometimes called "placing membership", Christians
are not mind readers.  One must let his intentions be known, as Paul
"assayed to join himself" to the disciples at Jerusalem. The
instructions of Romans 14, to "receive" those weak in the faith (here
speaking of those with misunderstandings re. the eating of meats),
would involve the concept of their letting it be known they wanted to
be received.  So the affirmative answer we have given re. the
authority for membership in the local church rests upon all the above
passages and considerations.

Leon Mauldin

If you have corrections, questions, comments or suggestions about these questions and answers, please contact Leon Mauldin directly at

Back to Index

Back to The Good Fight